They told their stories, like Barthelme, as sequences of short, eccentric, perfectly formed little scenes

By the time Barthelme died, the meta-fictional landscape had pretty much already subsided-and with the possible exception of Pynchon-whose fabulations were growing increasingly concerned with the real world of Reaganomics (Vineland) and 9/11 (Bleeding Edge)-most of the writers who attended Barthelme’s Postmodern Dinners in New York were fading from center stage in Manhattan’s always-fickle literary scene. But while the likes of Barthelme, Gass, Robert Coover, and Walter Abish were no longer celebrated as much as the new generation of so-called “minimalists,” it’s hard not to see Barthelme’s influence in the work of those who came after him: Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Ann Beattie, Richard Ford, and even Donald’s younger brother Frederick. And just like Barthelme, they broke our hearts, over and over again-whether wild or mundane, weirdly unbelievable or all too believable-with reflections of our common, ineffable, and totally surreal human life.

And many of his late stories focus on the private lives of men and women who were-like Barthelme and his various partners-lively, sad, lost, gentle, angry, and always searching for the next relationship or story

Barthelme might have had a less successful career if not for a few decent bursts of luck along the way. His youthful occupation as a museum curator developed in him a fondness for discordantly arranged items and subjects, and as an influential, prescient editor of Forum at the University of Houston, he became an early proponent of the likes of Gass, Norman Mailer, and Walker Percy, all of whom eventually (and not coincidentally) became early proponents of Barthelme. Through these developing connections, he found an important literary agent in New York, and in 1963 he was taken on board by the most powerful fiction editor of his time, Roger Angell at The New Yorker .

These so-called more “realistic” writers all seemed Barthelmian in their own quiet ways, producing short and loosely plotted stories about lost people in broken relationships, always moving homes and jobs, and never quite happy wherever it is they happen to be

Most of his stories read like collages of facts, nonfacts chat avenue reddit, imaginary blips and bleeps, and quotations from famous figures that might or might not be entirely accurate (Schlegel, Daumier, Goethe, Kierkegaard all commonly appear, or are quoted); others include actual collages that operate more as discordant juxtapositions than as commentaries-as in “At the Tolstoy Museum,” which features some geometric lines and mismatched pillars surrounding a huge bust of the Russian novelist over the caption: “Museum plaza with monumental head (Closed Mondays).” Or “The Explanation,” in which “Q.” and “A.” debate the qualities and uses of a “machine” that is illustrated by a recurring large black box that takes up a third of the page and seems to signify nothing. (Another story is titled “Nothing: A Preliminary Account.”)

In his later years, Barthelme’s innovative fictions grew slightly less exotic and surprising. He began producing more personal and reflective stories, such as the title story of “Overnight to Many Distant Cities,” in which the collage of wild narrative fragments includes items culled from his own life-such as a teenage misadventure in Mexico that Barthelme enjoyed with one of his brothers. Like the narrative presence that reveals itself at the conclusion of “The Dolt,” Barthelme lived each day, and wrote each story, with the knowledge that: “Endings are elusive, middles are nowhere to be found, but worst of all is to begin, to begin, to begin.” Barthelme’s humor is very unlike that of Beckett, who saw the shadow of endings looming blackly over every human striving. For Barthelme, the world was almost always ironically starting over again into the next weird and remarkable story. Until, of course, the stories stopped with Barthelme’s premature death by throat cancer-which almost certainly resulted from a lifetime of excessive smoking and drinking.